The Ravello Festival is one of the oldest and most renowned festivals in Italy. The Festival as we know it today is the outcome of a number of previous initiatives, and Girolamo Bottiglieri and Paolo Caruso were the chief architects of the annual event that led to Ravello becoming the “City of Music”. The connection between Villa Rufolo, the delightful venue made impressive and welcoming by the Scottish philanthropist Francis Neville Reid, and Richard Wagner was too alluring to pass up the idea of holding concerts in a place consecrated by the visit of the composer himself. During the 1930s the San Carlo Orchestra performed Wagner’s music in Ravello. One of these concerts was attended by the Prince and Princess of Piemonte, and to mark their visit the belvedere between Hotel Sasso and Hotel Palumbo was dedicated to the princess. Something of this spirit remained in the air, and twenty years later Paolo Caruso conceived the bold idea of moving the musical performances from the main square straight to the splendid terrace of Villa Rufolo, on a stage built out over the sea. With the suport of the Provincial Tourist Board, headed by Girolamo Bottiglieri, the idea became reality on the 70th anniversary of Wagner’s death. In the summer of 1953 the first of the “Wagnerian concerts in Klingsor Garden” (as they were styled in the programme) were performed by the San Carlo Orchestra, under the baton of Hermann Scherchen and William Steinberg. For many years Richard Wagner was the Festival’s presiding genius, and his music is still at the core of each year’s programme today.
Ensembles and Performers
In over half a century the stage overlooking the sea has hosted excellent symphony orchestras (Dresden Staatskapelle, Munchner Philharmoniker, Royal Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Kirov Theatre, Leningrad, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Orchestre National de France, West Eastern Divan Orchestra, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra Giovanile di Caracas); reputed chamber music orchestras (Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Camerata Accademica del Mozarteum, Wiener Kammerorchester); eminent conductors (Ashkenazy, Barbirolli, Barenboim,Chung, Davis, Fruhbeck de Burgos, Gergiev, Järvi, Maazel, von Matacic, Mehta, Pappano, Penderecki, Prêtre, Sinopoli, Slatkin, Spivakov, Tate, Temirkanov, Tilson-Thomas); illustrious soloists (Argerich, Cassado, Ciccolini, Glass, Kempff, Lindbergh, Lupu, Maisky, Pogorelich, Rampal, Repin, Rostropovich, Ughi, Weissenberg); famous jazz players (Bollani, Caine, Corea, Hancock, Marsalis, Shorter); opera singers (Behrens, Christoff, Cura, Domingo, Jerusalem, Meier, Raimondi, Salminen and Urmana) and pop singers (Noa, Ranieri, Toquinho); composers (Battistelli, Nyman, Sciarrino); dancers and choreographers (Bejart, Bill T. Jones, Bolle, Ferri, Martha Graham Dance Company, Petit); and actors and directors (John Malkovich, Margarethe von Trotta, Abbas Kiarostami, Fernando Meirelles, Dino Risi, Toni Servillo, Valeria Golino, Mario Martone, Palmer).
Music and Landscape
Year in year out music lovers quarrel over the legitimacy of open air concerts, with their accompaniment of extraneous sounds and noises. Yet surely the ultimate effect of the spectacle of son et lumière is undeniable, for any imperfection for the ear is more than made up for by the spectacle that confronts the eye. As Gore Vidal put it so poetically, “often, when the orchestra plays Wagner, the full moon rises above the mountains in the east, their profile recalling a dragon’s head reclining gently on the beach, while the birds of Ravello, who after all these years are particularly musical birds, trill their counterpoint from high up in the dark pine trees”.